In an interesting ruling made recently in WA a Perth accountant has lost his defamation claim against a woman who posted negative comments about him on a Facebook page ‘Poms in Perth’.
The Perth based Accountant argued he was entitled to more than $120,000 in damages because the comments were “defamatory statements for an improper purpose”.
The District Court of Western Australia heard that the woman described the Accountant as a “clown” and “rude and obnoxious” in a series of comments posted on the Facebook page last year.
The claimant argued that the Facebook comments were defamatory implying he was unprofessional, rude to clients, overcharged for his services and did not provide a good service.
The defendant argued that her statements were an expression of ‘honest opinion’ made in the public interest.
In her ruling, Judge Schoombee said an “ordinary and reasonable reader” of the Facebook page would be under the impression it was a space where people were offering their opinions about various goods and services around Perth.
The defendant “………..employed colourful language using words such as ‘clown’ and ‘shark’ which were perhaps over the top and exaggerated, but an ordinary reasonable reader …………..would have understood that she was expressing her opinion about her specific dealings” with the claimant.
In conclusion the Judge found that in all respects the defendant was making an ‘honest opinion’ on the Facebook Page in question and dismissed the case.
An analysis of the decision by an independent expert found that the Accountant lost this case due to a number of factors:
• several of the imputations were found to be truthful
• truth is a defence to defamation
• the defendant successfully argued the Facebook posts were ‘fair comment’
• the Judge found that fair comment and honest opinion were defensible
In conclusion it was stated that the defence of fair comment is highly technical and very rarely succeeds in practice. This Case is a rare example of a defence of fair comment succeeding.
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